TUSKEGEE, Ala. – By the time vaccines for the coronavirus were introduced late last year, the pandemic had taken away two close friends of Lucenia Williams Dunn. Still, Mrs Dunn, the former mayor of Tuskegee, spent months considering getting vaccinated.
It was a complicated consideration, framed by the government’s failed response to the pandemic, the disproportionate toll on black communities, and an infamous 40-year government experiment with which her hometown is often associated.
“I thought about the vaccine the most every day,” said Ms. Dunn, 78, who finally walked into a pharmacy this summer and rolled up her sleeve for an injection, after weighing with her family and doctor about the potential consequences of non-vaccination. stay vaccinated.
“What people need to understand is that some of the hesitation is rooted in a terrible history, and for some it’s really a process of asking the right questions to get to a place where they can get the vaccine.”
In the first months after the vaccine’s rollout, black Americans were much less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated. In addition to the difficulty of getting injections in their communities, their hesitation was fueled by a powerful combination of general distrust of government and medical institutions, and misinformation about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
But a spate of pro-vaccine campaigns and a spate of hospitalizations and deaths from viruses this summer, mostly among the unvaccinated and fueled by the highly contagious Delta strain, have narrowed the gap, experts say. So also the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval for a vaccine and new employer mandates. A steadfast resistance to vaccines in some white communities may also have contributed to the reduction in inequality.
While gaps still exist in some regions, according to the most recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation at the end of September, a roughly equal proportion of black, white, and Hispanic adult populations — 70 percent of black adults, 71 percent of black adults white adults and 73 percent of Hispanic adults – had received at least one vaccine dose. A Pew survey in late August revealed similar patterns. Federal data shows a wider racial divide, but that data lacks demographic information for many vaccine recipients.
Since May, when vaccines became widely available to a majority of adults nationwide, monthly surveys by Kaiser have shown steady improvements in vaccination coverage among black Americans.
How the racial divide was narrowed — after months of disappointing turnout and limited access — is testament to decisions made in many states to send familiar faces to knock on doors and dispel myths about vaccine effectiveness, offer to make arrangements and offer transport to vaccine sites.
In North Carolina, where vaccine providers are required to collect data on race and ethnicity, hospital systems and community groups conducted door-to-door surveys and organized pop-up clinics at a theme park, bus station and churches. Over the summer, the African American share of the vaccinated population began to more closely mirror the African American share of the general population.
In Mississippi, which has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country and similar efforts have begun, 38 percent of people who have started the vaccine process are black, a proportion roughly equal to the black proportion of Mississippi’s population.
And in Alabama, awareness campaigns and trips to vaccination sites helped change dismal inoculation rates. A store owner and district commissioner in Panola, a small rural town near the Mississippi border, led efforts to vaccinate almost her entire black community.
Today, about 40 percent of Black Alabama residents—up from about 28 percent in late April—have had at least one dose, a feat in a state that ranks among the lowest in overall vaccination coverage and highest in per capita deaths. population due to Covid-19. About 39 percent of white people in the state have had one dose, up from 31 percent at the end of April.
Health officials and community leaders say those who have not been vaccinated have raised concerns about how quickly the vaccines were developed and what their long-term health effects could be, plus misinformation such as whether they contain tracking devices or alter people’s DNA. The damage done by the government-sponsored trials in Tuskegee, in which black families were misled by health professionals, also continues to play a role in some communities, partly explaining why some African Americans still persist.
“It’s less about saying, ‘This racial ethnic group is more hesitant, more unwilling to get vaccinated,’ and more about saying, ‘You know, this group of people in this particular area or community doesn’t have the information or access they need to overcome their hesitation,” said Nelson Dunlap, chief of staff for the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
When the U.S. Public Health Service began what it called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Negro Male Syphilis,” 600 black men—399 with syphilis and 201 without the disease—were told they would be treated for supposedly bad blood in return. for free medical exams, meals and funeral insurance. In reality, the treatment was withheld. Even after penicillin was discovered as an effective treatment, most were not given the antibiotic.
The experiment started in 1932 and didn’t stop until 1972, and only after it was revealed in a news article. The surviving men and the heirs of those who had died later received settlements totaling about $10 million, and the disclosure of the study itself eventually led to reforms in medical research. Still, the damage was minor.
“Few families escaped the study. Everyone here knows someone who took part in the study,” said Omar Neal, 64, a radio host and former mayor of Tuskegee, who counts three family members in the study and who was hesitant to get a vaccine before finally getting one. , changed his mind by the rising number of deaths. “And the betrayal — because that’s what the study was — is often evoked when people question something related to distrust of medicine or science.”
Rueben C. Warren, director of the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University, said the study served as a real example in the long line of medical exploitation and neglect experienced by black Americans, which have eroded confidence in the government and health are affected. care systems.
What you need to know about Covid-19 booster shots
The FDA approved booster shots for a select group of people who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago. That group includes: Pfizer recipients who are 65 years of age or older or live in long-term care facilities; adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 due to an underlying medical condition; health professionals and others whose jobs endanger them. People with weakened immune systems are eligible for a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna four weeks after the second injection.
Regulators have not yet authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but an FDA panel is scheduled to meet to weigh booster shots for adult recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines vaccines.
The CDC has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster injection are: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney, or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and (ex-)smokers are also eligible.
The FDA approved boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The CDC says that group includes: medical workers; education workers; food and agricultural workers; factory workers; corrections employees; US Postal Service workers; employees in public transport; grocery store workers.
It is not recommended. For now, recipients of the Pfizer vaccine are advised to get a Pfizer booster shot, and recipients of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will have to wait until booster doses from those manufacturers are approved.
Yes. The CDC says the Covid vaccine can be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacies allow people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.
“The questions posed about the vaccine need to be understood in the broader context of historical health inequalities,” said Dr. warren. “The hope, of course, is that they finally decide to get the vaccine.”
A nationwide campaign led by the Ad Council and Covid Collaborative, a coalition of experts, resolved the hesitation. A short documentary was added to the campaign this summer featuring descendants of the men in the Tuskegee study.
When Deborah Riley Draper, who made the short documentary, interviewed descendants of the Tuskegee investigation, she noticed how shrouded in myths and misconceptions, such as the false claim that the government had injected the men with syphilis.
“The message from the offspring was clear that African Americans are as much a part of public health as any other group and that we must fight for access and information,” she said.
In Macon County, Ala., with a population of about 18,000 and home to many descendants of the Tuskegee studies, about 45 percent of black residents have received at least one vaccine dose. Community leaders, including those on a task force that meets weekly, attribute the statistic in part to local outreach and education campaigns and countless conversations about the difference between the Tuskegee study and the coronavirus vaccines.
For months, Martin Daniel, 53, and his wife, Trina Daniel, 49, have resisted the vaccines, their uncertainty being attributed in part to the research. Their cousin Cornelius Daniel, a dentist in Hampton, Georgia, said he grew up learning about his uncle’s research and seeing in his own family how the prolonged deception had sowed generations of distrust of medical institutions.
mr. Daniel, 31, said he overcame his own hesitation in the spring because the risks of working inside patients’ mouths outweighed his concerns.
His aunt and uncle reconsidered their doubts more slowly, but in the summer, when the Delta variant led to an increase in hospitalizations in the South, the Daniels made vaccination appointments for mid-July. However, before the date arrived, they and their two teenage children tested positive for the coronavirus.
On July 6, the couple died, inseparable since they met as students on the campus of Savannah State University, about six hours apart. Their children are now being raised by Mr Daniel and his wife, Melanie Daniel, 32.
“We really believe the vaccine would have saved their lives,” said Ms Daniel.
Mitch Smith reporting contributed.